CRAWFORD | Beyond the Heisman: Louisville's Jackson begins work - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Beyond the Heisman: Louisville's Jackson begins work of improving on historic campaign

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The celebrations are over, the Heisman Trophy sits quietly in a case at the University of Louisville football complex, and Lamar Jackson is back to work, on the field with his teammates.

It’s a strange thing, in some ways. That award immortalizes you, from a college football standpoint. The words "Heisman Trophy winner" are affixed to your name permanently. But when you win it in your sophomore season, life, and college football, still go on.

And the chirping intensifies. Tim Tebow heard it the year after he won the Heisman. The flaws in his game became magnified, and in some ways still are -- even though he went on to win a national championship. Once you’re on top, people take pleasure in knocking you down.

Jackson, in his junior season, must find a way to stay upright. As he did a year ago, he’s been watching plenty of video already. This year, though, he has watched a bit less of himself and more of other quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. It all follows a theme: Last offseason he became a great college quarterback; this offseason he’ll try to become more of a pro.

“I do believe that part of our job is to prepare our players for the possibility of an NFL career,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “That's why we'll do some of our stuff from under the center, making sure we get to the right plays, being able to call the cadence at the line of scrimmage, being able to operate out of the huddle, because some of those things we'll do this spring, we might not do as much in the fall, that'll help him when he does go to a camp, and starts his NFL career. It's just really working on being a better football player and a better quarterback that will carry over for him.”

But Petrino’s wish-list for Jackson goes far beyond that. The coach has laid out a set of things for the Heisman winner to improve upon. But the first thing he wants to establish will be a priority for the offense as a whole, and that’s having a power run game -- which also will entail Jackson getting more work under center.

TRANSCRIPT: Louisville's Petrino talks spring expectations, Jackson and the end of last season

“I think it's real important for us to be able to turn around and hand the ball to a running back and feel good about getting positive yards downhill, and not relying just on the quarterback and quarterback options and that way to run the football,” Petrino said.

Sometimes, maybe, Jackson was overwhelmed with decisions -- not just in the passing game, but in the run game. Petrino is hoping to simplify that just a bit.

“Peyton Manning said, ‘Sometimes I don't want to have to make every call at the line of scrimmage and change every play,’” Petrino said. “Sometimes, Lamar is making a decision on every play, who he throws the ball to, and also if he's running the ball whether he's handing it off or keeping it. So, we've got to be able to mix that into our offense better and run with power.”

One change is already visible with Jackson. He’s tipping the scales at 200 pounds for the first time in his life -- and not because of all the awards banquets. Petrino would like to see him 8-10 pounds heavier, and feels like he’ll add that muscle in time.

Jackson said the big change he feels on the field, though, is mental, not physical.

“I feel mature," Jackson said. "I feel like I've grown into the system more this year. I am ready to play.”

The nuts-and-bolts improvements for Jackson revolve around addressing his accuracy, footwork and judgement on the field.

“I think it's real important for him to be able to continue to get better at progression reads,” Petrino said. “Going from one to two to three, I really felt like early in the year, mid-year, he was doing a good job of that. And then he got a little greedy down the stretch and didn't really get to No. 2 and No. 3 like he should and tried to force it too much to No. 1. So he's got to do that. He's got to do a better job of setting every time in the pocket, getting back, getting set, standing tall, then his accuracy rate is real high. When he starts moving before he sets, his accuracy went way, way down. So we've got to do a better job of doing that. He needs to make the transition into knowing when do I throw the football away. How do I neglect negative yardage and not take negative yardage when I can throw the ball away when I'm outside the pocket so I can get to the next down without losing yards? And that's a huge step, because that hurt us a lot down the stretch.”

Petrino said Jackson’s personality has changed little from before his historic Heisman run. He’s still a player who loves the process, likes being at practice, embraced things in the weight room -- even if he’s still not quite eating enough for the coach’s liking.

He said all the hoopla around the award work Jackson down a little bit, but that getting back into the game with the award in his rear-view mirror should help him.

“I think it's been a grind on him,” he said. “There's a lot of stuff out there he had to do. I think it's been good that he's been able to get it over with, get back with his teammates and work. . . .  He's stronger and tested better than he ever has. Not where I want him yet, but better than he has. I think he's anxious to get back on the practice field. He's a kid that loves going to practice and enjoys every day being out there.”

On that, Jackson says, the coach is right.

“I love to play football for the love of the game," Jackson said. “That’s all I want to do. My teammates also keep me grounded. They crack jokes all the time. They are just like brothers, on and off the field. We have so much fun together."

It’s all a reminder that you never really arrive. Even after winning the most coveted award in college sports, the day comes when you have to go back to work -- and try to get even better.

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